Things to Know Before Eating Japanese Food

When we lived in Minneapolis there was a wonderful, fine-dining Japanese restaurant called Fuji Ya.

They did not have sushi (it hadn’t arrived in MN yet) or teppanyaki.

One dressed up to go there and made reservations far in advance.

It was my first introduction into Japanese cuisine and I loved it.

Here in France there are some very good Asian buffet-type restaurants featuring Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai cuisine, but nothing compared to Fuji Ya.

Sadly, its founder and owner, Reiko Weston, died in 1988 and the restaurant moved, changed, and is now closed.

I love learning about other food cultures. I remember practicing with chopsticks before going to Fuji Ya!

Read on for some insight into Japanese food and customs….

In Japan, public eating and drinking are governed by cultural norms that are extremely distinct from those in other countries. Most of these aren’t laws, yet they’re regularly practiced anyhow.

Japanese food will taste differently and some will find it weird. As such, it would be best to know about Japanese food beforehand. You can check out different Japanese restaurants online like the Benihana menu with prices so you won’t be overwhelmed when you dine in.

Even for a native of the nation coming to visit for the first time, the subtle distinctions in customs and etiquette might be confusing. Travelers aware of local businesses will want to be mindful of these norms ahead of time since they may be significantly different from their own.

Never reach for fallen food with your hands.

Using your left hand to collect any crumbs or drippings that may fall from your plate is considered poor etiquette. Even though it may seem courteous to use your hands as a tezara (literally “hand plate”), this widespread eating behavior should be avoided while dining at a Japanese restaurant.

Make sure you don’t touch or hover over food before eating it.

Is it difficult for you to decide where to begin your Japanese eating etiquette? According to etiquette, it is improper to hover your chopsticks over the side dishes before making a final selection. 

However, despite being deemed unpleasant, the practice has been given a name: mayoibashi, which translates as “hesitant chopsticks.” Using your chopsticks to touch food and then pulling them away without eating anything is referred to as sorabashi (literally, “empty chopsticks” in Japanese). 

If you don’t eat any rice in between those side dishes while using utsuribashi, which means “transition chopsticks,” you are committing a felony.

Do not invert your bowl’s lid.

A common misunderstanding is that inverting the lid of your bowl is a signal that you’re done eating, whereas you should return the lid to its original position on top of your bowl. For safety reasons, do not flip the cover upside down.

Biting food in half with your teeth is a bad idea.

In general, you should avoid tearing food apart with your teeth and aim to consume everything in one mouthful. When eating large portions of food, cover your mouth with your palm to avoid putting food back on the plate that hasn’t been consumed.

Before taking up your bowl, don’t put your chopsticks in your mouth.

In Japan, it is customary to eat with chopsticks first, then a bowl or other dining device. Put your chopsticks down first before switching bowls. The chopsticks may be used again once the second bowl has been taken up.

Remember to avoid laying your chopsticks on the bowl’s rim.

As a matter of etiquette, it is improper to use your bowl to rest your chopsticks since it is considered impolite. While dining with chopsticks, it is necessary to rest your hands on chopstick rests, also known as hashioki (hand rest). 

If you can’t locate any, you may make your own out of the plastic packaging that the chopsticks came in by gluing the ends together. Whenever there is no wrapper available, the chopsticks should be resting on the edge of a tray or another table object.

Make a mental note of these guidelines before diving into a plate of authentic Japanese food to avoid any unnecessary humiliation.

4 thoughts on “Things to Know Before Eating Japanese Food”

  1. My only experience at a ‘real’ Japanese restaurant was when I would spend time every summer in NYC with my aunt and uncle. The lived in the Century building which was about a block from Lincoln Center and a hub of all the various cultures there and it was wonderful and exciting and I really had an opportunity to try a variety of marvelous things. Sadly, not so here.

    • There were quite a few proper Chinese restaurants also in Minneapolis, but only the 1 Japanese at the time. Now it’s probably all the big buffets – which I can happily skip.
      I have never lived in a city where I could walk to places. Maybe, some day.

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